How I learned to stop worrying and love the Garfield

What a late-night standoff at Motel 6 taught me about life, comedy and the famous lazy orange cat

Published June 15, 2024 1:30PM (EDT)

Joey Clift has a lost weekend with Garfield at the Motel 6 Garfield Suite (Photo by Matt Mazany)
Joey Clift has a lost weekend with Garfield at the Motel 6 Garfield Suite (Photo by Matt Mazany)

I love the classic newspaper comic character Garfield – from his lazy feline attitude, to his love for lasagna, to his petty hatred for a cute gray kitten named Nermal, If the goal of entertainment is to bring people closer together, Garfield is our society’s Monday-hating glue. It’s my enormous love for that wonderful sarcastic cat that brought my girlfriend and I to the Motel 6 near the Los Angeles airport at 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday night. We were checking into the hotel’s only Garfield Suite, a hotel room filled with Garfield merchandise and elaborate decorations to promote "The Garfield Movie." Just as I was about to sign my name, I heard the Motel 6 employee say the words, “Oh no, we double-booked the Garfield room.” 

I looked up and saw two cash registers over, a hotel guest covered in Garfield arm tattoos. My girlfriend and I were adorned in elaborate Garfield shirts. Both parties had arrived at the check in desk at the same time with valid bookings for the same Garfield movie tie-in hotel room. The stressed staff had no idea how to resolve the quickly escalating situation. It was that moment that I’d learned just how far I’d go for Jim Davis’ greatest creation.

* * *

I devoured it like Garfield gorged on lasagna.

When I first met Garfield, I was a young kid growing up on the Tulalip Indian Reservation in Washington State. I was at a Scholastic Book Fair. My two obsessive interests were cute cats and the color orange. My 7-year-old eyes fell on a “Fat Cat Three Pack” featuring Garfield, who was orange, cute and cuddly in ways that my below-the-poverty-line upbringing was rarely allowed to be. He was everything I wanted, and with one look at his sour feline face I was hooked. I begged my mom to buy the book for me. Even though it meant we’d be eating store brand generic cereal for the next month, she caved. 

Joey Clift Garfield SuiteJoey Clift and Garfield, a reflection (Photo by Matt Mazany)

I read that Garfield book at least a hundred times. His constant complaining, love for coffee and abuse of the overly loyal Odie burned into my young memories. It became the start of my Garfield obsession. Channel-flipping on a weekday afternoon, I landed on the cartoon series "Garfield and Friends" and couldn’t believe it. Of course he was more than a comic strip! I devoured it like Garfield gorged on lasagna. I collected Garfield stuffed animals, books, anything of my new orange feline best friend that I could find.

But as I got older, my tastes changed. The things I’d grown up loving became too pure for my sardonic teenage brain. My focus shifted from the Monday-hating orange cat, toward weirder, darker offerings like Gary Larson’s "The Far Side," "The Simpsons" and "Late Night with Conan O’Brien" – but like a shadow, Garfield still followed me.

I made my comedy fandom a career, moved from the Tulalip Reservation to Los Angeles and dove into the local comedy scene with both feet. I performed at some of the biggest improv and sketch comedy stages in the country and eventually graduated to television comedy writing. I even received an Emmy nomination, a Webby Award win and credits writing for many fun and silly cartoons that are not unlike the "Garfield and Friends" series I loved growing up.

In my adult life, I hadn’t forgotten about Garfield, but as someone who writes jokes for a living, my feelings about him changed. I’d grown to despise the larger-than-life cat from Muncie, Indiana. Garfield was a comedy from a simpler time, where hating dieting and loving lasagna were good enough jokes to base an entire comic strip around. Like Garfield himself, the strip was comedically lazy and an example of the bland mainstream offerings that many of us in the alternative comedy scene pushed against. Instead of reading classic "Garfield," my favorite Garfield content were parodies created by fans. From Lasagna Cat’s surreal live action Garfield inspired videos, to Lumpy Touch’s videos reframing Garfield as a horror movie villain, to "Garfield Minus Garfield," a comic strip that edited the titular orange cat from the series and in the process, painted Garfield’s owner Jon Arbuckle as an even sadder maniac.

Dumb Jons & NermalsDumb Jons & Nermals (Photo courtesy of Joey Clift)

I became an authority on him, which, as a Garfield denier, became as cruel a joke as a Monday without naps.

I even created my own viral Garfield parody content. Like the time I changed my Twitter handle to Garfield Official and used it to hijack an official Garfield Twitter Q & A by answering all of the fan questions before the actual official Garfield account could. The stunt was deeply frustrating for the Garfield social media team, but a hit among Twitter users and Garfield fans, receiving media coverage from The AV Club and The Daily Dot. Or the time I tried to get Paws, Inc. to give me the Garfield license for a Garfield pen and paper RPG I called “Dumb Jons & Nermals,” which was a great idea in practice, but Paws was worried it would compete with other Garfield board game projects they were working on. Then there’s the time I built a campaign to increase my social media followers over the pandemic in exchange for filming myself eating lasagna with my bare hands like Garfield. It turns out, throwing lasagna isn’t the most efficient way to eat, and only a fraction of the airborne cheese dish made it into my mouth. Afterwards, it took several showers to wash the marinara smell out of my hair.

Eventually, I posted about Garfield so much that to a lot of the people, I became an authority on him, which, as a Garfield denier, became as cruel a joke as a Monday without naps. My phone and social media blew up with texts and tags whenever any weird Garfield news would drop, and most holidays, my friends and loved ones gifted me merchandise or art inspired by the almighty orange cat.

At first, the gifts and mentions were ironic, and an easy way for my friends and followers to have a laugh, but it slowly became something more. Then one day, when I guested on a live recording of a popular NPR series, a fan approached me after the show and gave me a Garfield sweater she’d hand sewn into a ribbon shirt. When my grandmother passed away a few years ago, my uncle sent me a few of her old things to remember her. At the top of the package was a well-worn Garfield stuffed animal absolutely infused with the smell of cigarettes that my grandmother must have owned since the 1970s.

Select items from Joey Clift's Garfield memorabiliaSelect items from Joey Clift's Garfield memorabilia collection, including the cigarette-stained Garfield (center front) owned by his grandmother (Photo courtesy of Joey Clift)

Garfield has been around for 46 years, and he means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. From older folks who remember him with fond nostalgia, to millennials and zoomers who spend their time creating ironic Garfield memes, to young kids discovering Garfield for the first time. In my life, I’ve been all of those things. I’m a visible Garfield fan, often posting on social media about him and even wearing a custom Garfield bolo tie to fancy Hollywood parties. In the process, I’ve become a conduit for people’s love of the ever-present funny monotone kitty. 

I used to view Garfield with a Monday’s worth of disdain.

Ask anyone of any age how they feel about Garfield, and they’ll have an opinion or a memory and honestly, that’s kind of beautiful. Whether you love him or hate him, he sticks to us like a '90s suction-cupped Garfield plushie hanging from a minivan window. And, in a lot of ways, Garfield is a self-care icon who lived his best life on his terms, which, as many of us are focusing on ourselves whilst surviving a global pandemic, is more relevant than ever.

* * *

So, we stood in the lobby of the Motel 6 near the Los Angeles airport a few weeks ago: my girlfriend Goldie Chan wearing a vintage 1970s Garfield sweater and I in a knockoff Garfield t-shirt with “F**k Mondays” printed on it in old English. With our bellies full of Olive Garden lasagna – in a polite, but quickly escalating showdown with a tattooed Garfield fan over a fully rented out hotel suite we both had valid bookings for – I saw tears in the other fan’s eyes.

Joey Clift and his girlfriend Goldie Chan in Hollywood Motel 6 Garfield SuiteJoey Clift and his girlfriend Goldie Chan in Hollywood Motel 6 Garfield Suite (Photo by Matt Mazany)

At that moment, it wasn’t about who was right. It was about our mutual love for a comic character from our youth, that we were expressing by booking a stay in a limited availability hotel room brand tie-in decked out in Garfield merchandise like the “Garfield House” sketch from "I Think You Should Leave."

I gave them our booking in exchange for a few photos of my girlfriend and I in the Garfield-themed room. We left, hotel-less, and complimented the guest’s Garfield tattoos on the way out of the Motel 6 lobby.

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As we left the hotel at around midnight, blasting Lou Rawls' song “Here Comes Garfield” from the speakers of my Toyota Corolla Hybrid, we were sad that we’d missed our opportunity to stay in a suite themed after Garfield, but we were also happy. Happy that by giving up the room, we’d brought a Garfield fan the same joy that Garfield had given us. 

Though we lost the hotel room, that’s not the end of this adventure. After posting about our story on social media, many friends and followers rallied to our side. Motel 6 even reached out, offering us a free weekend stay in their Hollywood Garfield suite, the only one in the country with an immersive experience. And that’s where I find myself right this second, wearing a Garfield cardigan, a plate of lasagna at my side and in a hotel room absolutely covered in orange fur and Garfield memorabilia, writing about my time with the orange kid.

Joey Clift Garfield SuiteJoey Clift, writer and lasagna eater (Photo by Matt Mazany)

I used to view Garfield with a Monday’s worth of disdain, but now, he’s my deep, multi-layered lasagna, with infinite levels of cheese, marinara sauce and personal meaning. Today, I’m grateful to live in a world where I, and billions of people around the world can appreciate Garfield and all of his amazing and hilarious friends. Except for Nermal. He’s the worst.

By Joey Clift

Joey Clift is an Emmy nominated comedian, TV writer, enrolled Cowlitz Indian Tribal member and Garfield fanatic based out of Los Angeles

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Cartoons Comedy Comic Strips Essay Garfield Motel 6 Self Care